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Category Archives: front yard farm

Aieee! Tabasco sauce!

Lawd have mercy on my sinuses and throat — just finished making some homemade hot sauce from the Tabasco pepper plants in the garden.

We use a lot of hot sauce in our kitchen so I can kind of justify the pain by thinking of our voracious appetite for the stuff.

This is my second attempt, as batch #1 was based on a recipe that required fermenting the pepper mash (as they do at the actual Avery Island, Louisiana company). It started out well and the color was gorgeous but after a week something started going grossly wrong:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the fact, I realized that I’d missed a crucial step in fermenting food:  making sure the mash was not exposed to air. (I blame the online recipe I used that didn’t include that info.) According to some more thorough recipes on other websites, this is accomplished by weighting it down with a plate or saucer, then putting a layer of salt water on top of that.

I hated throwing it out, since underneath that moldy top was perfect-looking peppers, but the smell was all I needed to know it had rotted, not fermented.  Ick.

So, when I harvested the most recent batch of Tabascos, I found a simple recipe that didn’t involve fermentation on www.friendsdriftinn.com.

One pound of Tabasco peppers, 2 cups white vinegar, and 2 teaspoons salt chopped in the food processor:

And just like when I made horseradish sauce in the food processor, my kitchen was filled with tear-jerking, throat-searing fumes from these tiny peppers and their seeds.  Now, this time I didn’t wear gloves and I was very careful not to touch the sauce.  (I can only imagine the world of hurt I’d have been in if I got that in my eyes).

The recipe then calls for you to bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes.  As I’d expected, heating this lava-like concoction only makes your eyes water and your lungs burn more.  All I could think was how in the world people work in hot sauce factories.  They’d have to wear gas masks and goggles.  It is wicked!

I tried using the immersion blender in the pan to further liquefy the mixture after it finished cooking, but I just couldn’t take it any more, so I poured it into a quart jar and blended it inside that.  Much better.

Now I’ve got it in the fridge, and the recipe says to let it stay there for 2 weeks, then strain the mixture and add vinegar to get it to your desired consistency.

In case this batch doesn’t work out (I don’t see how it can’t with all the vinegar it’s got in it), I do have some more peppers waiting:  two weeks ago I pulled all the Tabasco plants out of the ground before our first frost hit here in the Southern Appalachians.

And now I’ve got them drying upside down in our basement (right above the dehumidifier!):

lll

 

End of summer veggies. Getting ready for fall food.

How does fall sneak up on me so fast?  All of a sudden we’re in coats and long pants, and the leaves are turning.

Fortunately I did get my summer garden cleaned out, with the exception of the pepper plants.  They are the most prolific ones I’ve ever grown.  I’m crediting the weather this year, along with the new irrigation system that James’s dear cousin Jaime installed for us in the raised beds in July.  (Just a few weeks after he got it finished, he passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44.  Every time the irrigation comes on, I think of him and thank him for helping improve my garden and harvests.  I’m so sad he’s not here to enjoy all the habanero, serrano, tabasco, and poblano peppers that are still coming in.)

Here are some of the yellow and Cubanelle peppers — we’re still harvesting them, enjoying them raw, in salads and stir-fried.  So sweet:

The yellow peppers are now being joined by red peppers — they took the longest to mature out of all our pepper plants, and they aren’t really worth the wait.  The yellows are by far my favorite.

The darker green peppers on the left are poblanos.  Some of them grew to be quite large, almost as big as the yellows but not as thick-walled. They had a slight kick to them so we sauteed or stir-fried them.

I’m the only one in the family who likes eggplant.  I love to roast it and make baba ganoush.  These small globe eggplants were perfect.  From just 3 plants, I got enough eggplants to make several batches of baba ganoush and freeze it.  I harvested the last two of them in mid-September.

And my winner crop this summer?

Greasy beans from Sow True Seed.   I grew them up trellises on the sides of the raised beds.  They were delicious — I steamed them, boiled them when they got too big, and finally canned 24 pints of them, turning them into spicy crunchy dilly beans.  I combined a couple of recipes (as I didn’t have any fresh dill weed on hand when I got everything going in the kitchen) and they turned out great.

I spent alot of time on the porch stringing those greasy beans.  But that’s one of those gardening activities that goes perfectly with hot late summer afternoons.  I was also able to enlist help from relatives over Labor Day weekend so we could all share some, cooked down with sliced onions and a nice helping of butter.

Now we’re in an in-between stage, waiting on the broccoli, collards, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale.  In the meantime, I’ve been thinning radishes, arugula, asian greens and a couple variety of lettuce seedlings, and using those on top of salads as sprouts:

 

How to get a kid to eat broccoli

Just in the past week, I’ve been  harvesting the best broccoli I’ve ever grown.  It is super-crunchy, very tasty, and robust enough to have warded off the usual attack of the cabbage worms.

This broccoli doesn’t even make it through the front door without my 5 year old chomping into the florets.

He loves to help me find the crowns that are ready, then he waits stealthily until I’m occupied with pulling up a weed or picking another veggie — and he starts chewing away at it.

This broccoli is so good I’ve been just barely steaming it if I do cook it at all.

Now, in order to get my younger  boy to eat it I have to put butter on it.  But I’m just happy he likes it too especially considering how picky of an eater he can be.

The cauliflower plants aren’t quite ready yet.  I am curious if this guy will attack them post-harvest as voraciously as he does the broccoli…..

I always seem to be in the garden barefoot.  Note inadvertently color-coordinated  toenail polish shade.  Trying to think of a good new cheezy name for that color…”Broccoli Breeze”….

 

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Boys in 2010 with their cousin and the Mantis

We have had a large metal praying mantis sculpture in our yard for a couple of years.  Now we have about 500 of its real-life counterparts inhabiting our garden, thanks to an early birthday present for our 5-year old from our good friends.

It’s definitely a great gift for a 5-year old boy — but I must admit I was as excited about it as he was.

I’ve always heard that praying mantises, like ladybugs, are great predators for garden pests, eating all kinds of caterpillars and grubs that like to mess up good things growing.

We’ve also captured praying mantids in our house a couple of times and watched them for a day or so, and have been amazed at their lightning-quick forelegs and voracious appetites for moths.

This excellent birthday present was 2 egg cases, which the container said held approximately 200 baby mantids each.  The container also said it would take 2-6 weeks for them to hatch — you could put the egg cases outside in a tree or bush.

Click on pic to enlarge and you’ll see 3 baby mantids

Or better yet you could put them inside a glass bowl inside to watch them eventually hatch.  Well, I don’t know what size glass bowl they were talking about, but I sure am glad I put them in a mason jar with a lid because the morning after we got them, there was a jar full of hundreds of tiny mantids darting around inside trying to get out. ( I can’t imagine trying to herd all those mantids up from inside a house!)

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We all ran outside (after our 3 year old fell down the stairs in the midst of all the excitement — poor guy), my birthday boy unscrewed the lid and we watched them hop fearlessly from the glass to the green arugula and spinach leaves.

They were a tiny army — and a thirsty one at that, as they each immediately stuck their faces down onto the leaves to drink the dew from the night before.

We checked on the mantids after I picked the guys up from preschool at noon, and we found many of them perched on the tops of leaves in the garden, waiting for their next victims.

I’d put both egg cases back into the jar as I couldn’t tell which one was the one that had hatched.  Thank goodness.  Two mornings later, I came downstairs to find another jar full of baby mantids raring to get out.  I thought maybe the raised beds in the front yard had plenty enough pest protection from the first release of mantids, so I dispersed the second hatching onto the plants in our perennial garden in our backyard (including on our apple trees, blueberry and raspberry bushes).

Here are some more photos of these cool hunters after we turned them loose in the garden:

 

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Raised cedar bed kits — at the hardware store!

I’m happy to see these kits available at the North Asheville ACE hardware store near my house.  I’m also slightly envious that somebody beat me to it.

When I saw them, I instantly had that “hey, I could’ve made and sold those years ago!” thought — which I guess is kinda like when people see a cool piece of art yet say “hey, even *I* could have done that”.  Oh well, you snooze, you lose, right?

I imagine that these will sell well — easy to assemble, fairly manageable size/weight, and the price isn’t too outrageous.

So they’re good for folks who don’t want the DIY experience of building beds from scratch, which can be time-consuming.  It eliminates the need to go hunting for cedar lumber and needed hardware, and making all the cuts.

The packaging also says they’re “stackable and expandable” so you’re not limited to the size, which is 4 feet square and 7 inches deep.  I think that’s a great size for someone who’s starting out with their first garden — but even better, it can grow as you learn.

Not only do these kits take the hassles out of building your own beds, they even tell you exactly how much soil you’ll need to fill them: 8 cubic feet.

I’m all for anything that gets folks gardening and growing their own food — and I think this is a great idea especially for beginning gardeners and/or people with small yards. Hurray for more yard farmers!!

 

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4 pounds of fresh spinach — a good recipe

My spinach has done so well this spring that I’ve been enjoying it for well over a month and have shared it with several friends.  I prefer it raw — in salads — when the leaves are small.  However, it got crazy on me and grew big and not quite tender anymore.

So I looked in my Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything cookbook, found a good recipe for “spinach croquettes”, then picked and picked and picked and came up with a sink full to wash:  

And that was the hardest part of the entire recipe.

Spring greens from the garden — lettuce, arugula, spinach, cress —  have the most labor-intensive preparation than anything else I grow.

I end up washing them a few times then inspecting both sides of each leaf before eating or cooking them.  It’s not the garden dirt that I mind — it’s slugs and cabbage looper worms that turn off my appetite. I know, I know, crawly critters are considered a delicacy and/or protein in some cultures.  And their presence is a better alternative to nuking my plants with pesticides.   Instead I raise our water bill considerably in the spring making sure my greens are critter-free.

My boys love weighing our garden veggies on this old scale that belonged to my grandmother.  It’s a trick great way to get them helping out in the kitchen when Preschooler Witching Hour is nigh (’round about 5:15pm).

Here’s the final product, which was thoroughly enjoyed by both boys (even the picky one) — spinach this way is deee-licious.  It was sweet, not soggy or bitter at all.  (I’d taken the other croquettes out of the skillet before I took the picture — you can fit about 8 in there at at time.  I think the whole recipe made about 18 — I’d doubled it).

And here’s the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything:

SPINACH CROQUETTES

MAKES:  4 servings  TIME:  30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • Salt
  • 2 pounds spinach, trimmed of thick stems and well washed
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere, cantal, or other fairly strong cow’s milk cheese [none of which I had so I used some mozzarella instead]
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs [I used panko crumbs]
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or use more oil)

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the spinach and onion and cook for just about a minute, until the spinach wilts.  Drain thoroughly and cool a bit.  Chop the spinach and put it and the onion in a bowl, along with the eggs, cheese and bread crumbs.  Mix well, then add salt and pepper to taste.  If the mixture is too loose to form into cakes, add some more bread crumbs; if it’s too dry, add a little milk or another egg.

2.  Put half the oil and butter into a large skillet, preferable nonstick, over medium heat.  Form the spinach mixture into small cakes and cook, without crowding — you will have to cook in batches — until nicely browned, adjusting the heat so the cakes brown evenly without burning, about 5 minutes.  Turn once, then brown the other side, again about 5 minutes.  Continue until all the spinach mixutre is used up.  Serve hot or at room temperature.”

 

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3 weeks after planting, and everything’s going wild

It’s already so warm that everything’s starting to bolt — my spinach leaves are getting unworthy of being eaten raw, I’m seeing the little broccoli-looking florets on some of my greens (like mizuna), and the lettuce is looking similarly bothered by this early, fast spring.

Y’all come by and pick a bag (or ten) of greens — they’re getting out of hand!

Mizuna is now taller than my 3 year old

Garlic coming up

 

 

 

 

All the seeds and sets I planted back on March 7th have come up in full force.  We’ve had ample rain, warmth and sun to coax everything up.

Beets and snow peas are great seeds for kids to help with the planting -- they are big and easy to handle

Snow peas

Garlic and radishes

Yum, shallots

Radishes

And no frosts or freezes to kill everything back — yet.  I just keep waiting for a weather report calling for a late-season blizzard or something (wasn’t Asheville’s Great Blizzard of ’96 at the end of March??)

If that does happen, I can cover 4 of my raised beds, but there is so much in the yard that we’d need to buy truckloads of plastic sheeting to cover all the trees and shrubs that are already flowering.

So while this unseasonably warm weather is unsettling (I keep thinking of flooded islands, melting ice caps) now I’m kind of hoping it stays this way — at least for my garden’s sake!

Raspberry canes

Blueberry blossoms

Jonafree apple blossom

Jonafree apple blossom

Honeycrisp apple blossom

 

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Veggies to plant in early spring in WNC

One of my biggest challenges in gardening in raised beds is finding enough room for everything I want to plant.

Right now one of my 6 beds is full of spinach, carrots, cress, mizuna and mache — I planted all from seed back in the fall, and our mild winter and early warm spring days have blessed us with lots of big green salads lately.

The other beds have random plantings like a couple rows of spinach, red russian kale, beets and leeks that overwintered.

I’ve been thinning out the leeks and transplanting them around the end of the bed they’re in.

I have a hard time with thinning out plants.  It’s a gardening angst I’ve realized about myself over the years.

This, of course, adds to my problem of not enough room in the beds, as I’d rather re-plant than chuck them….

Along my fence, I planted a row of snow peas a few weeks ago. They’ve not sprouted yet, but the radish, arugula, and beet seeds I planted are starting to pop through:


And I’ve also recently planted garlic, red onions, and shallots.

Sow True Seed, Reems Creek Nursery, Jesse Israel’s, N. Asheville Ace Hardware all have cool-weather veggie starts too.  I got cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce (buttercrunch and romaine) and dinosaur kale starts for my beds from these places.

The cauliflower starts got a little frostburned one night last week when it got into the mid-20s but I think they’re going to be OK.

Sow True Seed has a great planting guide you can pick up at their downtown store.  It is a nice reference for what -and when — to plant right here in WNC.

Planting red onions

 

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Aside

Nothing like a weird carrot to get the kids interested in the garden — and to get at least one of my kids excited about eating a carrot:

I’ve never been able to pick a carrot in the middle of February before.  I planted these seeds back in October, I think.  They’ve been growing slowly in one of the raised beds and the tops looked so good I just had to pull up a few.

Unfortunately, they aren’t too flavorful and the texture is a little tough.

That didn’t stop my older boy from taking this one from me when I brought it in the house and immediately washing it in the bathroom sink (the only one he can reach) and asking if he could eat it right then.  I told him we’d have to get some photos first.

Well, everthing comes back to Star Wars in our house.  His first impression of what the funky carrot looked like?  Yoda’s hand.  Here it is with cloak and light saber.

Our interpretations varied:  Yoda hand, creature with a tail (my husband’s first interpretation), one of those wild codpieces worn by remote tribesmen in New Guinea (my first thought) and “I don’t wike cawwots” (my almost-3 year old whose diet mainly consists of air and spinach hummus — I think he thought it was going to end up on his plate).

It didn’t taste as interesting as it looked; he got through about half of it before he decided it wasn’t so great:

 

But there were some really delicious pickin’s from the garden this week:  tons of spinach (we shared with friends and made a huge salad with mizuna and a bit of watercress thrown in), collards, russian red kale, leeks, and tiny little beets and beet greens.

The collards are perfect right now.  The green worms that had been feasting on the leaves are gone!  That’s one of those small things in life that make me really happy — to see a plant come back from near-destruction (especially when those gross worms were the culprits).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funky carrot

 

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Aside

It’s mid-January and I’m still seeing cabbage worms, slugs, and aphids on the greens in the garden.  The collard greens are lacy with holes (despite the boys helping me pick off the green worms), and the aphids completely coated the dinosaur kale so I had to pull them up and pitch them in the compost.

My older boy found a tick on our dog’s ear over the weekend.  I saw a mosquito floating through the kitchen last night.  We need some serious cold, y’all!  ‘Tis the season to be critter-free!

Well, I must admit I’m not totally hating the recent balminess.  It has been nice enough to hang out at the park with the kids and friends, play in the yard and dig around in unfrozen garden soil.  Plus, we’ve been able to make some great salads as a result of this unexpected extended season.

Mizuna is the big feathery green in foreground, spinach behind, carrots on far right

Spinach, arugula, and mizuna are doing great.  And there are even some tiny carrots coming along. I love to add mizuna to a salad — it’s spicy like arugula but crunchier. I like the light green color too.

I’ve found a few wormy critters munching in this raised bed, but not nearly as many as on the big greens.  At a friend’s suggestion, I’ve been soaking the greens in salt water for about 15 minutes before rinsing and putting them in the salad spinner.  That helps loosen any bugs.

Mâche, or corn salad -- notice there are no bug holes -- I'm liking this green!

In late fall, I planted a few rows of mâche seed in the uncovered raised bed next to the arugula.  The plants are slow growing but they’ve turned into small, close-to-the-dirt rosettes.  I’ve been eating the leaves directly from the garden and they are as mild as lettuce with a taste similar to buttercrunch.  I’m going to try making this salad with grapefruit and avocado — a nice antidote to holiday gluttony (although I can eat my weight in avocado, so maybe not!)

Oh, and I’ve been reading that mâche has 3 times more Vitamin C than buttercrunch, and it also packs alot of iron into those little rosettes. Wikipedia has some more interesting facts about mâche — I also find it interesting that such a little plant can have so many different names.  And it’s a member of the valerian family.  Cool little plant!

A couple of nights last week we had some temperatures in the teens, so I pulled the vinyl covers up onto the hoops to protect the plants.  Here are a couple of other raised-bed, front yard gardens I saw in the ‘hood on a run last week after a cold night:

And this one has a different support structure from mine and the ones above —  metal fencing — definitely stronger in wind/snow – it seems like overkill now but I’m sure in the next few weeks it will come in handy, right??  Come on, winter!

Gardening in a lukewarm winter

 

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